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Nick The Sting
Clearly influenced by the success of The Sting, Fernando Di Leo's 1976 film Nick The Sting stars Luc Merenda stars as two-bit con artist named Nick Hezard who lives and operates out of Geneva, Switzerland. The big man in town is a crime boss named Robert Clark (Lee J. Cobb), who sets Nick up to take the fall in an insurance scam he's running.
When Nick figures out what's happened and who is responsible for it, he decides to pay Clark back. To do this, he puts together a rag tag group of small time criminal types to setup a fake killing that will, if it all goes right, let them get their hands on Clark's cash and destroy his reputation while they're at it. It is, of course, a very convoluted plan involving fake cops, fake murders and even a fake police station that won't be easy to pull off. And then there's the lovely Anna (Luciana Paluzzi) to contend with.
Featuring some fun supporting players like William Berger, Dagmar Lassender and a scene stealing Valentine Cortese as Regina, Nick's very likely incestuously weird and lecherous mother, the movie goes at a pretty good clip but is tonally all over the place. Relaying way too heavily on an overabundance of split-screen sequences, what is primarily a broad comedy does occasionally segue into a few scenes of strong violence here and there, probably in an attempt to cash in on audiences hungry for the violent poliziotteschi cop thrillers that were proving to be so popular at the Italian box office during this period in time.
The cast, however, are mostly decent, even if the movie is fairly indecisive in terms of what direction it wants to go into. One problem with the casting, though, is Merenda in the lead. While he's always been very good at playing tough guys roles and has successfully carried many a rock solid crime film (Castellari's The Big Racket being a prime example), he isn't the best guy to handle the comedy in the film. It doesn't seem to come natural to him and while he's very good in the scenes where he's required to get tough and take action, the more comedic moments involving his character fall a little flat. The supporting players previously mentioned are generally good enough to keep things entertaining enough and Lee J. Cobb is a lot of fun as the film's heavy, but when the lead feels off, the film feels off, and such is the case with Nick The Sting.
The film is stylish and nicely shot, making good use of the Geneva locations to set the film apart from the countless other Italian crime films shot in Romes and Naples. This gives the picture a slightly different flavor which works in its favor. Di Leo seems to have been really enamored with split-screen techniques while making this movie, however, because while it isn't on the screen constantly, it's on the screen more than enough for the novelty to ware off well before the half way mark in the film. Otherwise, production values are decent. The score is pretty solid and the cinematography is quite good. The movie is loaded with funky seventies styles and fashions and quirky, colorful characters. This had potential, and while it's never a complete disaster, it fails to hit the heights that the director's other, better known pictures did.
Raro brings Nick The Sting to region free Blu-ray on a 25GB disc with the ninety-four minute feature taking up just under 21.8GBs of space on the 25GB disc and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The image looks soft and colors a bit faded. Expect to see some minor print damage throughout the presentation. There are a couple of spots where you might notice some really minor compression artifacts. This is watchable and better than DVD could provide to be sure, but the image is fairly flat and waxy looking.
The only audio option on the disc is a 24-bit Italian language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Optional subtitles are offered up in English only. The mix sounds good, the score in particular has some good presence to it and if the gun shots don't always sound as powerful as maybe they could have, at least the dialogue is clean and easy to follow.
The only extra on the disc is a twenty-three minute featurette hosted by Mike Malloy that goes over the use of split-screen techniques in sixties and seventies films. He notes The Thomas Crown Affair as an important milestone in this arena and talks about how split-screen came to be, the importance of different designers on the trend, how it used to be done with an optical printer before digital filmmaking became the norm and when and where it tended to be used. He then shows off interesting and unique examples of the use of split-screen and quite a bit more.
Those expecting one of the gritty, hardboiled crime pictures that Fernando Di Leo was known for won't find what they're looking for with Nick The Sting, which winds up being a fairly nonsensical take on heist film clichés and Italian cop movie tropes. Raro's Blu-ray looks okay, if never amazing, and the featurette from Malloy is genuinely interesting. Casually recommended for Eurocult enthusiasts and Di Leo completists, a fine rental for the masses.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.